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Women's lacrosse 101

Maybe you're like Rodger -- no, not that you were recently interviewed by Lake the Posts, but that you've never been to an NU lacrosse game, and though you're eager to see what all the hype is about, you have no clue what the rules of the game are. 

Or maybe you have seen our wonderful Wildcats in action, either in person or on TV, and you were somewhat confused by the foul calls or what all the markings on the field are for.

Well, as a public service, here is a primer on women's lacrosse-- how it's played, the rules, its differences from the men's game. This way, when you join Rodger at beautiful Lakeside Field today or watch on the BigTen Network as NU takes on rival Penn at noon CT, you'll know your free positions from your restraining lines from your crosse in the spheres.

The field


Women's lacrosse is played on a field 120 yards long by 65 yards wide. Goals are placed at each end, 10 yards from the edge of the field. The goals stand six feet tall by six feet wide. Surrounding each goal is a circle 13 feet in diameter.  Also extending from each goal is an 8-meter arc and a 12-meter fan. We'll explain these later.

In the middle of the field is a center circle that is used for draws after each goal is scored. Halfway between the center circle and the goals on each side are restraining lines, which stretch from sideline to sideline.  More on the restraining lines later, also.


The players

Each team has 12 players, usually in a configuration of one goalkeeper, three attackers, five midfielders and three defenders.  As in ice hockey, teams are allowed to substitute players on the fly, while play is still going on


The equipment

Each player is equipped with a stick, also called a crosse.  The pocket of the stick is relatively shallow (much shallower than in men's lacrosse), which makes the ball easier to dislodge.  As a result, players must learn how to "cradle" the ball, which is the lacrosse equivalent of hockey stickhandling or basketball dribbling.

Besides the stick, the women also wear protective eye gear.

Goaltenders get a stick with a much bigger pocket, and they also wear a protective mask, chest protector and gloves.


The play

Games are 60 minutes long, with 30-minute halves.  Each half begins with a draw, in which two opposing players line up in the center circle, and the ball is placed between their two sticks, about waist high. When the whistle sounds, the players must then lift the ball over their heads. As the ball comes loose, a free-for-all ensues with each team frantically scooping at the ball to try to gain possession of it. Draws are also used to restart the game after each goal is scored.

The object of the game is obviously to score more goals than your opponent. When a team is on offense, it can only have seven players in the attacking third of the field beyond the restraining line. The defending team also is only allowed seven field players plus the goalie behind the restraining line.  This explains why you'll see players hanging back in the middle of the field, not getting involved with the play. It's not that they're cherry picking or too lazy to join the play; they're required not to cross the restraining line.

If the ball goes out of bounds on a shot, the team with the player closest to the ball when it went out of bounds gets possession.  You'll often see a team on offense keep a player or two behind the goal, in large part because of this rule. If the ball goes out of bounds on any play besides a shot, then the team that touched the ball last loses possession.

No players are allowed to enter the goal circle, except for the goalkeeper.  Within the 8-meter arc, a defender can only stay for three seconds at a time, or, as in basketball, the team will get called for a 3-second violation.

On defense, no body checking is allowed, but players can use their stick to check their opponents' stick to jar the ball loose. However, you can not recklessly check your opponent's stick (that's slashing) or direct a check towards a player's head or violate the "sphere," which is an imaginary bubble about a foot in diameter around the head. Those violations will be called as fouls. Conversely, a player with the ball can't just cradle the ball by her head in order to keep it safe. That's a foul, too.


The fouls

There are minor fouls and major fouls. When a foul is called, the referee blows the whistle, and all players must freeze right where they are. For a minor foul, the offending player must stand four meters back from where she was when the foul was committed. For a major foul, the offending player is placed four meters directly behind the player that was fouled. This is called a free position and, in effect, could lead to a fast break.

If a team commits a major foul within the 8-meter arc, the other team gets a free shot at the goal from the top of the 8-meter arc. This is similar to a soccer penalty shot, and all defenders are cleared out of the arc. For a minor foul within the 12-meter fan, the player gets an "indirect free position" from the nearest spot on the fan, in which the player can run or pass, but can not directly shoot at the goal.

Similar to a delayed penalty in hockey, if a foul is committed on a team in the middle of a scoring chance, the referee may issue a "slow whistle" and allow a play to continue. Once the scoring chance ends, if a goal is not scored, the foul is enforced.

Players can also receive yellow and red cards, if the foul is severe. A yellow card forces a player out for three minutes of action. While technically the team is shorthanded, the fact that the restraining line only allows seven offensive players and seven defensive players (plus the goalkeeper) means that in reality neither team really has to play with a manpower advantage/disadvantage in the offensive and defensive zones. A red card means ejection from the game.


Differences with the men's game

You might be surfing ESPNU and find yourself watching a men's lacrosse game. Though the women's and men's versions are obviously similar, there are also significant differences.

Women's lacrosse is played with 12 players, while men's lacrosse has 10 players. The men are allowed all manners of body checking and physical contact, and they wear helmets, pads and other protective equipment.

Because of the physical contact, the pocket on men's sticks is much deeper, which allows players to hold onto the ball better. Men's sticks are also allowed to be of varying lengths, with defenders having longer sticks. 

The field in men's lacrosse is smaller, 100 yards by 60 yards, compared to the women's 120 yards by 65 yards.

Men's lacrosse also operates on a shot clock, and penalties are enforced like a power play in hockey, instead of free positions or free shots.


Well there you have it. Now you can discuss our lacrosse program like a seasoned veteran. 

With Friday's win over No. 15 Penn State, our Wildcats are now 11-0 and maintain their No. 2 ranking, behind also-undefeated Maryland. Today's foe, No. 8 Penn, has developed a bit of a nice rivalry with NU, as many of the matches have been really close, including a 13-12 double-overtime win for NU in the 2009 NCAA semifinals and a 10-6 win for NU in the 2008 NCAA championship game.

Gametime is noon CT, and if you're not able to make it to the game, the BigTen Network has the live broadcast.
If you can't catch the game today, you'll have five more chances in the regular season, including games against No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Stanford and No. 11 Virginia.